Junior Varsity: Building A Base and Making A Name

It’s been a long and bumpy road for The Junior Varsity, both figuratively and literally.

The band got its start as a hybrid, formed after members of different groups in the Jacksonville, Ill., area decided to start a new band together. A few years and a couple of lineup changes later, TJV has found a clear path after signing to Victory Records and the re-release of their album The Great Compromise, an appropriate choice considering all of the changes the group had faced.

“We’ve all known each other since high school, but all of us went to different schools,” keyboardist Nick Dodson said.

“David and Noah had other things on their agenda from the beginning, so they weren’t as into the band. Tony (Peck, drummer) wasn’t on the same page of music as we were since we were more technical and he wanted to be more straightforward. He’s doing great with The Forecast so I don’t think there are any hard feelings with anyone.”

How did TJV get from central Illinois up to Chicago and Victory? Granted central Illinois greatly affected their sound with influences such as American Football, Hey Mercedes and Park, but none of these bands were well known outside of the area. TJV eventually ended up in Chicago by way of touring, and of all places, Ohio and West Virginia. Their numerous mishaps in Ohio resulted in the song “Ohio (& the 178 Meter Dash to Indiana).”

“Ohio. I don’t get it either. I thought it was a fucking joke,” Dodson said. “My laptop got stolen and our window was shot out on the Warped Tour.”

A lot of these anecdotes can be found in the liner notes of The Great Compromise, which is like watching a movie on DVD with the commentary track on.

“It was interesting to get each other’s thoughts,” Dodson said. “We wanted to try to add something people might enjoy reading more. Not a lot of bands do that.”

Concerning the West Virginia experience, Dodson said, “One of the lowest points of the band was breaking down in Parkersburg, W. Va., and being stranded for seven days because they couldn’t get out there to fix the van. We were stuck in an Econo Lodge for seven days.”

At first, they signed onto many tours to help get their name out and build a fan base. This of course meant the important investment that is the road van. However, the band lost money in this endeavor.

“We ended up losing money touring, especially in some really bad tours,” Dodson said. “It was frustrating and hard in the beginning since we went through three vans in a year since we bought shitty vans. We even had to borrow money from family since we had wasted thousands of dollars on junk vans for touring. We bought a new one after being signed onto Victory, and it hasn’t given us problems since.”

So, the moral of this story is: if you’re going to go on tour, make sure you get a decent van that won’t crap out on you halfway through. Not to mention, never give up.

“A lot of people encouraged us not to give up,” Dodson said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A lot of bands get a lot of fame quick, but a lot of bands starting out don’t realize how long it takes to get a fan base. We’ve been at it for four years, and we still have trouble making ends meet even though we’re not doing as bad as we were back in the day. It takes a lot of time and determination.”

After awhile, TJV ended up playing more shows in the Chicago area instead of going on such exhaustive tours as previously mentioned. This resulted in less road mishaps and their eventual signing. In comparison to central Illinois, the Chicago scene has its obvious benefits.

“It’s much, much more alive. We haven’t played a show in Chicago to less than 500 people in two years,” Dodson said. “If we grew up in Chicago and started there, or moved there at the beginning of the band, we’d have an even larger following since the scene supports the bands.”

Proving that being signed onto a record label is no overnight success, it took eight months of negotiations between TJV and Victory Records. It all started when Double J, a graphic designer for Victory had heard the first release of The Great Compromise. He pushed Tony (Tony Brummel, owner of Victory Records) to sign the band.

“It wasn’t immediate. They wanted to find out who we were and what we were about,” Dodson said. “You have to form a relationship and a lot of people don’t do that. Tony decided one day after listening to our MP3s and seeing us at shows that he wanted to sign us, which is where we are today.”

However, the members of TJV haven’t turned their backs on their central Illinois roots. For example, the band has recently moved into a six-bedroom house in Springfield after living in Bloomington.

“It seems like the kids in Springfield try to support the music scene,” Dodson said. “It’s a dead music scene here, but now with the success of The Junior Varsity and Park, they’re going to try to do a lot of shows at the Warehouse, try to get the scene going again. Our last show there was a CD release show at a venue of 200 capacity and only 100 people showed up.”

As far as their next project is concerned, TJV plans on maintaining a “more accessible” sound.

“We understand more what we want to do and what we think will be more successful to some extent,” Dodson said. “We’ll still be technical and true to our sound, but we understand what we need to do for people to understand our music. We usually use weird time signatures, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do it anymore. We’re just going to do it in a smarter way.”

An example of such deliberation can be found in the band’s initial decision to re-release The Great Compromise instead of their later Wide Eyed despite the band having a certain preference for Wide Eyed.

“We re-released it because we thought fans would enjoy it,” Dodson said. “Victory was interested in doing it and putting out a DVD to show what we’re like and what we’re about, to give us a face since an online presence doesn’t show who we are.”